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By Ben Kolada

As the retail wireline communications industry loses steam, valuations for competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) have flatlined. Regardless of whether or not the firms were growing their bottom line, CLECs are being sold at just north of one times trailing revenue. We don’t see much that would change this metric.

EarthLink’s (NASDAQ:ELNK) recent purchase of ITC DeltaCom is the third instance in the past year in which a regional CLEC was acquired by a larger provider. The deal was announced shortly after PAETEC (NASDAQ:PAET) picked up Cavalier Telephone and just under a year after Windstream Communications bought NuVox Communications. Of these three providers, we believe only NuVox was growing its revenue, while Cavalier was experiencing losses and ITC DeltaCom was lying stagnant.

Yet all three firms were valued nearly the same. EarthLink’s offer for ITC DeltaCom values the Huntsville, Alabama-based company at just 1.1x trailing sales, including debt, while both Cavalier and NuVox went for 1.2x. (As a side note, we would add that both Cavalier and NuVox were owned by M/C Venture Partners.)

We wouldn’t be surprised to see other similarly sized CLECs – such as Cbeyond, TelePacific Communications or Integra Telecom – fetch roughly the same valuation in any sale. For example, take Cbeyond, which is similar in size to ITC DeltaCom. The firm is currently priced at 0.9x trailing sales, nearly mirroring the 0.8x valuation ITC DeltaCom had in the day before EarthLink announced that it was buying the company.

Recent CLEC valuations

Date announced Acquirer Target Enterprise value EV-TTM sales multiple
October 1, 2010 EarthLink ITC DeltaCom $516m 1.1
September 13, 2010 PAETEC Cavalier Telephone $460m 1.2*
November 3, 2010 Windstream Communications NuVox Communications $664m 1.2

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate

Source: For CLECs, Valuations Flatline